Friday, December 30, 2011

Answers to 2011: The Year in Questions

Check out the answers to yesterday's NYT quiz.

Here's to more Oops! moments in 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

NYT's The Year in Questions

2011 is quickly coming to a close. As we head into 2012, it's fun to look back at the political events of the year.

The New York Times has a great graphical display of 2011's top moments. The chart is pasted below. For the answers check back with the NYT tomorrow (or check the answers out when I post them here).

Look for a return to regular blogging sometime in January 2012.

Happy New Year to all. The Iowa Caucus is just around the corner ...

Thursday, December 22, 2011 for Sale! Great X-Mas Present

The New York Times has a great little piece about the web site,, currently offered for sale by American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research group. 

Available for $1 million or less on Craigslist, the web site links to damaging content about Newt Gingrich including negative news stories, the Tiffany web site, and this video on global warming from 2006 with Nancy Pelosi.

Didn't Netflix/Qwikster teach us about the importance of securing Twitter handles, domain names, etc. before launching a campaign?

Perhaps it's cause for Newt's campaign to do a little shopping? Just in time for the holidays ...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are we down to Newt Romney? Jon Stewart and the Mainstream Media React to Saturday's GOP Debate

Saturday night's GOP debate offered some entertaining exchanges. The first was between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (or Newt Romney) regarding the differences between the two candidates.

The best zinger of the evening: when Gingrich suggests that Romney would have been a career politician if he had actually beaten Senator Ted Kennedy during the 1994 campaign in Massachusetts.

Of course the media seems to think the key take-away from the debate is Romney's $10,000 bet wager with a non-betting Rick Perry.

Jon Stewart offered his take on the debate exchanges during Monday's broadcast of The Daily Show.

As a testament to Stewart's popularity, ABC News repeated part of the clip on their Tuesday evening broadcast.

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Whether the race is really just between Newt and Romney depends on a few things, including momentum. For more on what might really go down in Iowa, check out Nate Silver's latest blog post. The race is wide open according to Silver -- despite Gingrich's recent surge in the polls and windfall of media attention. Here's to an exciting couple of weeks as we approach the Iowa Caucus.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fred Armisen's Obama vs. Dana Carvey's George Bush

Jason Zinoman offered an interesting critique of presidential caricatures on SNL in yesterday's NYTimes. According to Zinoman, Armisen has less to offer in his portrayal of Obama than Carvey did with Bush I or even Will Ferrell with Bush II. One reason for the critique of Armisen's portrayal -- Obama gives comedians less to "work with" than his predecessors. He just doesn't say that many funny things or have that many compelling gestures.

Despite Armisen's less than hilarious version of Obama, Saturday Night Live still presents some very important political satire and is poised to play a pivotal role in the 2012 election. In 2008, Tina Fey's version of Sarah Palin grabbed more attention (especially virally) than the actual Vice Presidential debate.

Interestingly, Zinoman mentions the importance of Saturday Night Live as a venue for politicians -- making appearances in an attempt to charm voters with some self-ridicule or self-directed humor. My own research, forthcoming in Mass Communication & Society takes a look at the impact of self-directed vs. other-directed hostile humor on political attitudes. The results of the study suggest that voters cool towards politicians after viewing other-directed hostile humor (presented by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and the like). At the same time, the study suggests that self-directed humor may hold some promise for politicians looking to improve their image and engage with a large segment of the voting public.

So look for more Armisen impersonations and perhaps even Obama himself (or even Romney) as we get closer to November 2012.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cain, Romney, and Huntsman: This Weekend's Political Comedy

The weekend began with Herman Cain's appearance on Friday's broadcast of the Late Show with David Letterman. Poor Herman Cain doesn't have any friends in Washington DC, but the voters are still interested in hearing more from Cain despite allegations of sexual harassment and his level of expertise on Libya. The full twenty-four minute appearance is embedded below:

Saturday Night Live started this weekend's broadcast with a cold open from Jason Sudeikis (in the form of Mitt Romney). Unfortunately, even SNL's version of fake Mitt Romney is dry and boring. Not even a leather jacket can help:

Lastly, the real Governor Jon Hunstman made an appearance on SNL during Weekend Update. There might be one too many New Hampshire jokes in this clip, but Huntsman's attempt at humor is admirable and certainly funnier than Perry's appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman from earlier this month. This just under 3 minute clip offers some good free exposure for a candidate like Hunstman with single-digit polling numbers. Hey, he's up from the Margin of Error right? In any event, this might be the best clip of the weekend, but you be the judge.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are all of these Republican gaffes hurting the GOP?

In today's New York Times, Michael Shear presents an interesting analysis of the recent gaffes made by GOP candidates including Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann.

The question is whether these gaffes - particularly with respect to foreign policy - weaken assessments of the Republican Party. After all, foreign policy and national security are supposed to be among their bread and butter issues.

Whether these gaffes will have an impact on the GOP in this election or the long term is debatable. At the very least they do offer good fodder for late night comedians. Here's Jon Stewart's take from last evening's broadcast on Herman Cain's interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding events in Libya.

And here's a clip of the original interview put forward by the Journal Sentinel

Is this simply the latest in a series of funny gaffes or is it time for the GOP to do some damage control?

SNL's Version of Perry's Oops Moment

For those who weren't in front of the TV last Saturday night -- or haven't managed to catch up on Hulu -- here's SNL's version of the Perry "Oops" debate moment.

Not a bad opening segment for a show that will increasingly insert itself into the political fray as the election gets closer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rick Perry's Top 10: Can Self-Ridicule Remove the Sting of his Oops Moment?

Rick Perry appeared on David Letterman last night, reading the evening's Top Ten list. Last night's list - "Top Ten Rick Perry Excuses." The impromptu appearance was made in an attempt to minimize the damage from Perry's "Oops" moment during the GOP candidates debate.

My recent academic research on the differential impact of comedy forms suggests that viewers cool towards politicians when folks like Letterman, Colbert, and Stewart make fun of them using other-directed hostile humor. At the same time, voters can warm toward politicians like Perry, McCain, and others if they are willing to be in on the joke and engage in some healthy self-directed humor or self-ridicule. Of course, this also means that the self-directed humor has to be funny with the politician doing a good job in the impromptu role of comic.

After watching Perry's appearance on Letterman from last night, I'm not so sure that this attempt at self-ridicule worked. After all, Perry's body language alone makes watching the Top Ten reading an uncomfortable experience.

What do you think? Did Perry's attempt at self-ridicule minimize the sting of his "oops" moment during the debate or did Perry fall flat in his attempt to be a comic?

Top Ten video below:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Great Week for Political Comedy

It's been a fun week in political comedy. Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers had a lot of fun during their chat on The Colbert Report this past Tuesday. I particularly like their discussion of political comedy and SNL's role in making fun of the mainstream media, especially since Colbert tries so hard to stay in character as a serious media personality.

Herman Cain had some fun with Jimmy Kimmel on Monday night. The purpose of his visit was to discuss the Sharon Bialek/Gloria Allred press conference.

There's also Rick Perry's debate performance -- a brain freeze that has received more media attention than the actual issues or substance of the debate. Perry will appear on the Late Show with David Letterman tonight  in an attempt to turn this whole debate flub into just a humorous campaign misstep. Cain will appear on Letterman next week -- November 18th to be exact.

And finally there's a new Mike Tyson impersonation of Herman Cain over at Funny or Die.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Best of Both Worlds: Twitter and Comedy

Seems that Twitter is a useful forum for comedians these days -- especially as a testing and proving ground for jokes that don't make it past the cutting room floor.

There was an interesting article in Sunday's NYTimes about the ways in which late-night comedy writers and even the head writer for The Onion, Seth Reiss, uses Twitter to keep the comic juices flowing. Seems the worlds of new media and comedy (and even political comedy to some extent) are coming together in an attempt to make us laugh.

Check the article out and find out who to follow.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Push the Envelope, Conan: Same-Sex Marriage & Late Night Comedy

Conan O'Brien will officiate at the first same-sex marriage featured on late-night television

Check it out tonight as Conan marries the show's costume designer Scott Cronick to his partner David Gorshein.

Of course the media had an instant reaction to the pending nuptials. Luckily Conan was able to turn their reaction into a fairly funny comic bit. 

The wedding will also commemorate the one year anniversary of Conan's affiliation with TBS. Three cheers to Conan for being willing to "push the envelope."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Race, the debate over Same-Sex Marriage, and Cory Booker

Frank Bruni has an interesting column in today's New York Times. He talks about the relationship between race and support for same-sex marriage. More specifically, Bruni focuses on the African-American community chronicling their lack of support for same-sex marriage initiatives especially when compared against Hispanic and Caucasian voters.

Bruni's piece is worth a read for a number of reasons, but it is his discussion of the upcoming Maryland case that piqued my interest. Public opinion research has documented the differences in support for same-sex marriage legislation in the state and the particular opposition the measure faces from African-American pastors and the religious community they represent. Given the state of affairs in Maryland and the state of national public opinion (at least when it comes to race and support for same-sex marriage), it should therefore come as no surprise that the Human Rights Campaign has enlisted Newark Mayor Cory Booker (video featured below) and celebrities like Mo'Nique to show their support for marriage equality.

The question is whether these videos will have an impact in Maryland and beyond. As the debate in Maryland heats up and as Governor Martin O'Malley pushes forward with his attempt to have the state pass same-sex marriage legislation, it is likely that we'll see a whole host of these types of video messages targeting a range of constituency groups -- not just African-Americans. Will these videos be enough to cause shifts in public opinion? Is the connection between civil rights and gay rights a compelling enough argument?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Comedian Running for Mayor of Miami Beach

There was a fun article in this Sunday's NYT about Steve Berke a comedian running in the Miami Beach mayoral race. 

Berke, age 30, is a Yale graduate who decided to run for office. His campaign has attracted serious attention even though he is less than serious himself and it's possible that he could do quite well against his main opponent, incumbent Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, the first Hispanic American female mayor of the city. At age 72, Bower insists this is the last time she'll be running for mayor.

The issue is whether Berke (advised by Republican consultant Roger Stone) will actually prevent Bower from serving that last term. The NYT described Berke as A Jon Stewart era candidate:

Call it a Jon Stewart-generation campaign by a candidate weaned on “The Daily Show” and hoping to use raw humor to reach new, disenfranchised voters through social media. On his campaign fliers, Mr. Berke poses with a fluffy housecat borrowed from a friend “because I don’t have a wife and children.” His campaign’s robo-calls use voice impersonators posing as President Obama, Bill Clinton and, “for the Jewish vote,” Adam Sandler. He has cameras recording his every step (and misstep) so he can pitch the whole thing as a reality show. He highlights his politically lethal gaffes because another part of his platform is unwavering transparency.

The reality is that Miami Beach is just the right kind of city for a non-traditional candidate like a comedian. Stay tuned for Election Day to see whether the citizens of Miami Beach -- known for it's Art Deco hotels, flamboyant lifestyle, and beaches, will pick the comedian Berke or stick with Bower for the win.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jon Hunstman and Stephen Colbert in 2012!

Jon Huntsman, Republican GOP candidate and former US Ambassador to China appeared on The Colbert Report earlier this week.

During the course of the interview, Colbert called Huntsman a moderate. And if you examine his political positions, the truth is that Huntsman looks more like Obama than any of the other GOP candidates. With only 2% of Republican support according to recent polls, there's little chance that Huntsman will remain a presidential candidate for much longer. That said, a Huntsman candidacy really would make for an interesting and competitive general election cycle.

Towards the end of the interview, Colbert asks Huntsman if he is ready for "The Colbert Bump." A real phenomenon, research has actually shown that appearing on Colbert's show can help congressional candidates with fundraising efforts. Of course, there's no real evidence that "The Colbert Bump," helps increase poll ratings. And it's doubtful that an appearance on The Colbert Report will do much for Huntsman, especially among Republican primary voters.

That said, Huntsman's appearance underscores yet again the strategic value of candidate appearances on political comedy programming. I discuss the phenomenon in a forthcoming research article in the journal Mass Communication & Society.

As we get closer to the Iowa caucuses, look for candidates from Huntsman to Romney to Perry to Cain to try and take advantage of appearances on non-traditional infotainment programming. The Colbert Report and other programs offer an excellent way to connect with a different group of voters who tend to be less politically attentive on average.

It's your turn to be the judge -- what do you think of Huntsman's appearance? Bonus or bust?

Frank Luntz and Stephen Colbert on Corporations are People

Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist who is responsible for the reframing of terms like the estate tax (death tax) and oil drilling (energy exploration) spent some more time with Stephen Colbert this week.

The segment begins with some very entertaining conversation between Colbert and Luntz and the explanation of some key research techniques like focus groups and dial technology. In the end, Colbert persuades Luntz to turn up the dial:

The second segment on the broadcast actually features a focus group with average Americans. The bottom line -- Americans don't necessarily see corporations as people from the outset. After some time with Luntz however, some interesting slogans result, reframing the idea that corporations are in fact people. "Corporations Are Humans" sounds pretty convincing after all. What about "People Are Corporations?" Does order in fact matter here? Watch the video and decide for yourself:

I for one am very intrigued to see if an actual commercials results from all of this research.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Daily Show, Republicans, and the War on Science

Aasif Mandvi, Daily Show correspondent offers a funny piece on the Republican war on science.

The science fair kids in the video certainly seem a lot smarter than the GOP nominees featured in the beginning of the video or Noelle Nikpour, the Republican strategist.

I'm putting my money on the kids and science.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reading the Newspaper is Sexy. Really?

This week marks the launch of a new advertising campaign by the American Newspaper Association. The message: Reading a newspaper is Sexy.


According to an article in today's New York Times:

“Smart is the new sexy” reads the tagline for the campaign, which was created by the Martin Agency, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.
“Be able to find Iran on a map,” says one ad that shows an illustration of a woman reading a print newspaper at a table. “Know what the city council is up to behind closed doors,” it continues."
While I do think that understanding geography and being able to point out Iran and Egypt, Afghanistan, and Israel on a map is sexy, I'm not sure that there's a large enough target audience out there who agrees, especially with respect to newspapers. 
Even if the new ANA ad campaign is aimed at encouraging both print and digital readership, I'm not sure the message will resonate. Perhaps I'm just too cynical? At this point, I'm willing to settle and say that finding Maryland, New York, and California on a map borders on sexy these days as does just a hint of newsprint ink on Sunday morning fingertips.

True nobody wants to be this person:

“Who wants to go to a cocktail party and not know what’s going on in the world?” Mr. Hughes said. “You’ll be sexier if you’re current with what’s going on in the world.”

But are newspapers the best medium through which we can encourage news consumption as sexy?

Comedy in these Troubled Economic Times

The New York Times presents an interesting analysis of the success of television comedies this fall. According to the article:

"So far this season, sitcoms occupy seven of the top 10 spots among entertainment programs (not counting football) in the category of most financial importance to network executives — viewers ages 18 to 49"

The report suggests that comedy has seen a resurgence in part given the sad state of the American economy and the reality that sitcoms are finally outshining reality and drama television. Both new shows like Fox's The New Girl and staples like ABC's Modern Family are leading the ratings game.

Looks like it's not just a good time for political comedy but for the sitcom as well.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protests help to shape media and political agenda.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been receiving more media attention as of late. For some, this focus is long overdue while for others these protestors occupying Zuccotti Park in New York City and similar locales across the country are receiving too much attention. Regardless of your view, it's clear that the Occupy Wall Street movement is starting to have a real influence on the media agenda and raises issues that will need to be carefully addressed by both political parties as we head closer to the general election season.

In today's New York Times alone, there were three articles about the protestors in the main news section. First, there was a comparison between those currently protesting and the Tea Party members who were out in force during the last election cycle.

Further back in the news section, there was an article about tent libraries set-up for protestors in Boston and other cities. If you aren't fully convinced that the protesting groups represent two very different political perspectives, take a look at the reading selection in Boston. Think Tea Party members are big fans of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky? Doubtful.

Lastly, there's an article about protestors celebrating Jewish holidays in Zuccotti Park and how the construction of a sukkah (the Jewish holiday of Sukkot just passed) suggests that all these claims about protestors' expressions of anti-Semitism might be a bit off the mark.

In previous weeks, The New York Times told you all about the diet of the protestors in the Wednesday Dining Section and we learned that protestors were abusing bathroom privileges at local Wall Street area establishments.

All in all, a range of coverage for the protestors in the last few weeks. Some stories have been more serious and on-message while others appeal to the human interest.

It is unclear what these protests will achieve in the end besides making some more headaches for the Bloomberg administration. For right now though, they've captured the media's attention and are a prime example of agenda-setting. Look for increased media coverage of the protests to influence the talking points of both Republicans and Democrats.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Are we already down to a Perry vs. Romney showdown?

It seems that the media has already decided the race for the 2012 GOP Nomination has evolved into a head-to-head contest between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Yep, it's a battle to the finish for Romney and Pery despite Herman Cain's recent surge in popularity among voters in Florida and the reality that primary voters won't even start to head to the polls until January 2012.

According to a recent article in the NY Times, the Perry vs. Romney showdown has been a long time in the making or has at least been a factor since the 2008 election.

Both candidates did a good job of attacking each other in Tuesday's latest GOP Candidates debate -- the eighth of the season. To catch up on the debate highlights, check out this clip from the Wednesday broadcast of The Daily Show.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Christie, Fat Jokes, and the 2012 GOP Nomination

As a native of New Jersey, I have to admit I'm not a big fan of Chris Christie. Still I was intrigued by his potential late entry into the Presidential race as a contender for the 2012 GOP Nomination.

Alas, Christie will not be running for President in 2012, choosing instead to continue to focus on unfinished business in New Jersey.

This announcement left many Republicans in the tri-state area disappointed and also meant that late-night comedians would have to abandon their "Christie fat jokes" in favor of new material.

Christie, who is both aware of and sensitive about his weight problem, took the jokes in stride. In a press conference (the highlights of which are featured in this clip from Tuesday's episode of The Daily Show), Christie suggested that he cares more about the comedy actually being funny than the repeated references to his larger-than-average physique.

An active discussion of Christie's weight problem did surface on the blogsphere last week alongside speculation of a potential Christie candidacy. For some, Christie's weight raised important concerns about his health and his potential ability to govern. For others like Frank Bruni of The New York Times all of the discussion of Christie's weight in connection with his qualifications for President was a bit overblown:

"Downgrade Christie for his truculent style. Reject him for his limited experience. But don’t dwell on his heft, at least not to the extent that many Americans have been whispering — and some are now outright saying — you should. Girth doesn’t equal character. And mettle has better measurements than the number of scoops in your post-dinner sundae or miles in your pre-breakfast run."

Weight issues aside, Christie would be a stronger candidate in 2016 after he's had more time and experience as a politician in his newish role as Governor of New Jersey. At the same time, he'd also be better able to manage the rigors of a national campaign if he was able to trim down over the next few years. After all a national campaign is grueling for even the most fit of presidential candidates.

In the meantime, NJ can keep Christie and late-night comedians can move beyond the fat jokes. There's plenty to make fun of when it comes to Perry and Romney after all.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Did The Onion's Recent Attempts at Satire Go Too Far? Or Just Get Our Attention?

Yesterday, The Onion, America's Finest News Source posted a serious of tweets and a satirical article about members of Congress taking school children hostage in the US Capitol. The article also featured a doctored photo (see below) and a short video clip.

While the story was obviously fake, the article and the tweets in particular have captured the attention of the mainstream media. For example, here's some  commentary from The Washington Post and an article in today's New York Times. In addition, the Capitol Police is now investigating the situation and The Onion's false reports of the attack. 

The Onion's reach on Twitter, (the satirical outlet had over 3 million followers as of August 2011 according to a report by Mashable) may explain much of the attention. Especially when you compare The Onion's Twitter followers to those of traditional print publications (from Mashable): 

"That’s about 300,000 more than Time, three times more than The Economist and 1.6 million more than Newsweek. Granted, The Onion also boasts the largest print and web circulation out of the four publications, but there’s more at work on Twitter than sheer eyeballs. The attention that The Onion gets on Twitter is a testament to its success of continuing its satire of news organizations onto social media."
Perhaps it's time to take The Onion -- or at least the outlet's reach and circulation figures, but not the satire -- more seriously?

New research on Twitter teaches us about cross-cultural emotional patterns

Emerging research by Cornell University sociologists (set to be published in the journal, Science) tracks the mood of Twitter users over time. Analyzing a large corpus of tweets, the researchers found that patterns in mood follow a general rhythm across cultures and countries. The highlight of the study was published in an article in this week's New York Times:

"Drawing on messages posted by more than two million people in 84 countries, researchers discovered that the emotional tone of people’s messages followed a similar pattern not only through the day but also through the week and the changing seasons. The new analysis suggests that our moods are driven in part by a shared underlying biological rhythm that transcends culture and environment."

The study offers a true analysis of mood patterns using text analysis -- a growing area of interdisciplinary research that has computer scientists, social scientists, and communication researchers working collaboratively to understand large bodies of text -- from Tweets and blog posts to traditional news content. 

I might be a little bit biased, but one of my favorite pieces of research in this area was completed by colleagues in computer science at UW-Madison. The piece by Goldberg et al. (2009) analyzed a corpus of 100,000 New Year’s wishes uploaded to the Internet by individuals across the globe to coincide with the 2007 ball drop in Times Square. The most common wish topics according to the research -- peace, love, and health and happiness. This research represents just one of the many ways that text analysis can be applied to everyday language and discourse.

Participating as a "tweep" at the White House Twitter Town Hall this summer offered me not only the opportunity to meet Barack Obama and live tweet the event from the East Room, but also allowed me to attend a follow-up discussion about Twitter, social media, and data applications with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and top White House new media and technology officials. Let's just say that it's not just academics who understand the value of mining Twitter text data. 

As the reach of Twitter spreads (13% of US adults use Twitter according to a May 2011 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project; with usage highest among Millennials, Gen Xers, and Blacks and Hispanics in particular) look for continued textual analysis of these precious tweets. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jon Stewart Takes on Rick Squared and Speaks to Republicans at Camera Three

Jon Stewart started off the week with a review of last week's Google/Fox News Republican candidate debate. There's an irony not to miss here given that this clip is from a Google sponsored debate and Santorum is well known for his Google problem. So here's the clip for Rick #1 from the top of the show:

 and here's Rick #2 (aka Rick Squared):

For viewers who often think Stewart is left-leaning, his address to Republican base over at Camera 3 offers a sample of partisan commentary. In fact, recent research with colleagues Patricia Moy and Michael Xenos published in the volume, The Stewart/Colbert Effect: Essays on the Real Impacts of Fake News, explores the connection between partisan identity (e.g., being a Democrat or Republican) and the processing of humorous messages from programs like The Daily Show. In our research we find that some viewers of The Daily Show view the program through a partisan lens, using the perception that Jon Stewart leans left as a rule of thumb or heuristic when processing and interpreting content presented each evening. Partisan heuristics are particularly important when the target of the comedy is less well-known (e.g., think Nancy Pelosi, Rick Perry, or Chris Christie) as opposed to a more prominent figure like President Barack Obama.

So here's the Camera 3 message ... certainly an example of partisan commentary:

Perhaps the most disturbing piece from the whole show -- even more than the performances of Rick Squared -- is Chris Christie's version of Born to Run.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jon Stewart Interview with Rolling Stone

Jon Stewart's mug graces the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone. 

Highlights from the interview with Stewart are available on the Rolling Stone web site along with a fun gallery of behind the scenes photos

For those who need even more Stewart, check out this video segment with Rolling Stone Executive Editor Eric Bates:

Some highlights from the Rolling Stone interview:

Stewart says that the Daily Show has a lot in common with Fox News. "We are both reactions to the news and to government," he says. "We're both expressions of dissatisfaction.

Obama has been a disappointment to Stewart. "He ran on this idea that the system and the methodology are corrupt," he says. "It felt like the country was upset enough that he had the momentum needed to re-evaluate how business is done. Instead, when he got elected, he acted as though the system is so entrenched that it has to be managed rather than – I don't want to say decimated, because I'm not an anarchist or a nihilist.  But I'm surprised at how much he deferred to the legislative process."

And my personal favorite given my own appreciation for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:

Bruce Springsteen remains one of Stewart's heroes. "When I listened to his music I didn't feel like a loser," he says. "I felt like a character in an epic poem about losers…Plus, you would go see his show and he would blow your fucking mind for four hours. At a certain point, you'd want to go up onstage and be like, 'Guys! It's OK. I got my money's worth, like, two and a half hours ago. Save yourself! I don't want you to burn out,. You're giving too much! We do not deserve what you've done here tonight! A lot of us are jackasses!"

Rick Perry's Proven Leadership Ad

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to this new ad for Rick Perry. The ad is certainly dramatic and chock full of startling imagery and movie-preview style music. I personally was waiting for a green preview screen at the end.

The ad is 1 minute and 45 seconds long -- a departure from the 30 and 60 second ads that are standard campaign fare. In addition, the ad starts off as an attack against Obama and ends with a rousing endorsement of Rick Perry -- a clear attempt to attach a positive ad to the initial negative message. The juxtaposition suggests that voters must make a choice between the failed policies of the Obama administration and the promises and hope offered by a Perry presidency.

While the design and elements of the ad are interesting in and of itself, the important thing about this ad and others will be their viral reach. This ad is clearly meant for television viewers in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The true impact of the ad however will be how quickly the piece spreads on sites like YouTube and the mainstream media's coverage and rehashing of the various claims put forth in the ad. In other words, you no longer need to be watching the evening news in Iowa to be tuned into the 2012 primary campaign ad wars and sites like YouTube offer the opportunity to present longer ads that deviate from traditional time formats.

Just another way that the Internet and new media are changing the dynamics of political campaigns ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Al Gore Refers to Stephen Colbert's "Character" during interview segment

Al Gore appeared on The Colbert Report on Tuesday evening to promote his Climate Reality Project, a 24 hour reality special about the influence of climate change in each of the 24 time zones around the world. For those who want to check out the show on TV, it will be airing tonight. For those who don't get Current, it's also possible to stream the content online.

During the interview, when chatting about Keith Olbermann and his new role as a program host on Current TV, Al Gore revealed that Stephen Colbert is actually "presenting a character" in his role as program host.

For Colbert, who always strives to remain in character, the revelation offered an uncomfortable yet funny twist to the discussion of Current TV and Gore's recent work on climate change. You can watch the video of the interview below:

Research by fellow political communication scholars LaMarreLandreville, and Beam, published in the April 2009 issue of The International Journal of Press/Politics actually tested whether viewers correctly "understood" Colbert's in-character presentation.  (I also happen to like the Becker & Scheufele piece in the same issue, but I'm a bit biased).

Anyway, back to comedy .... LaMarre et al.'s research is summarized in a related piece in Miller-McCune. Specifically:

"What they found was that the more liberal participants reported their own ideology to be, the more liberal they thought Colbert was. And the more conservative they reported their own ideology to be, the more conservative they thought Colbert was. Both, however, found him equally funny."

So there you have it, both liberals and conservatives find Colbert funny but they disagree as to what he is trying to accomplish with his "character." For liberals, Colbert is truly more liberal politically but for conservatives, Colbert is a bit more conservative. We academics (and LaMarre et al. in particular) attribute this variance in interpretations of Colbert's character to confirmation bias -- viewers see what they want to see in shows like The Colbert Report in part so they can find some support -- or confirmation -- for their own political views.

Colbert's recent endorsement of "Rick Parry" in the Iowa Straw Poll and his Colbert Super PAC funded political commercials have encouraged the media and academics to again question whether viewers are correctly understanding Colbert's "character" and even more importantly, whether Colbert can have a considerable impact on the 2012 presidential campaign.

While it looks like we'll never know how many voted for "Parry" in the Iowa Straw Poll, it seems pretty clear that Colbert will continue to insert himself and his Super PAC into the 2012 GOP nomination process. Whether voters in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, or even Colbert's own South Carolina will correctly "get" Colbert's character remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jon Stewart on Obama's Jobs Speech

Jon Stewart kicked off a new week of The Daily Show with a strong start. Here's a very funny opening segment on the Obama jobs speech.

My favorite part of the segment is the focus on the "awesome cutaways to uncomfortable Republicans." John McCain and Mitch McConnell do look pretty uncomfortable, right?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Late Night Comedy Meets the Emmys

Yesterday's NYT featured an interesting story about the changing face of late-night comedy and the race for the coveted Emmy award for the best variety, music, or comedy series. As noted in the article, Jimmy Fallon is the only network host/program nominated for the Emmy. The other nominations are for cable programs -- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Conan's new show on TBS, and HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher.

The article focuses on the importance of the nomination for Fallon and the reality that both Letterman and Leno are missing from the list of nominees. 

In addition, the piece stresses the success of both Stewart and Colbert and their increasing rise in the ratings:

The arrows continue to point up for him [Stewart] and Mr. Colbert; their ratings were both up over the past year, and with an election looming — the richest of subjects for the most topical of hosts — the prospects are good for even more increases. To say nothing of profits. Beyond the passionate fan reaction those two shows draw, they also constitute what many in late night see as the future of the format: cost-contained productions on fewer nights of the year.

In fact, the days of the expensive late-night variety show complete with a house band, expensive sets, etc. may soon become a relic of the past.

Also interesting is the changing demographics of the late night audience. Contrary to popular belief, late night comedy has an older and more diverse audience -- it's no longer just a time slot for a young adult male viewing audience.

The Fallon show generally has the youngest staff, but the O’Brien show has by far the youngest audience. The median age of his viewers is a stunning 32. By comparison Mr. Colbert’s audience age is 39; Mr. Stewart’s is 41; Mr. Fallon’s is 49, Mr. Kimmel’s is 51; and in the senior division, Mr. Letterman and Mr. Leno have audiences with a median age of about 56. 

While it is likely that a cable program will take home the statue given the odds (and I'd actually be pretty confident in betting on the winner), it's still an accomplishment for Fallon to be nominated. 

As audience demographics continue to shift, look for the networks -- both broadcast and cable -- to respond to the changing dynamics of the late night comedy audience. We may in fact see more programs shift to fit the Stewart/Colbert/Comedy Central mold.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Electability, the 2012 GOP Primary, and Authenticity?

In Thursday's New York Times, Nate Silver discusses two fundamental qualities voters look for when evaluating candidates in a presidential primary contest: (1) electability and (2) a candidate who will promote an agreeable (in this case conservative Republican) policy agenda.

Often times, it's electability that matters most to primary voters (aka the party faithful) because they seek a candidate who can ultimately win in a general election. As Silver notes, Perry does well in promoting a conservative agenda but is lacking when it comes to perceptions of electability. Romney on the other hand may not appeal to the policy preferences of more conservative Republican voters but he does give off an air of electability when it comes time to think about the general election.

The importance of electability was especially evident during the 2004 Democratic primary. In the early days of the primary I worked with a team of pollsters hired by a candidate who was promoting a very credible, actionable, on-point, Democratic policy agenda. The problem was with the candidate's perceived electability. As the Iowa Caucus results would quickly show, John Kerry was perceived by voters to be the most electable candidate in a general election match-up with President George W. Bush. Candidates like Dick Gephardt, John Edwards, and especially Howard Dean were seen as slightly less electable but more centrally aligned with the policy priorities of Democratic primary voters.

In the end, Kerry secured the nomination primarily because he was seen as the candidate who was mostly likely to beat Bush in November.

Both Kerry and now Mitt Romney suffer from problems of authenticity, or the perception that they're not being "real" or true enough to what they say they really are.

As the New York Times points out, Jon Huntsman also suffers from an authenticity problem among Republican voters who don't see him as conservative enough for their tastes. For Huntsman, it's a real problem of perception and of not being able to promote an agreeable policy agenda that will appease 2012 GOP voters. Interestingly enough, Huntsman would actually be quite "electable" given a head-to-head match-up with Barack Obama, but without a truly Republican policy agenda, he'll never make it out of the early primary contests with much, if any, partisan support.

With Republican voters so fed up with the current administration, look for electability and even perceptions of authenticity to drive the 2012 primary contests. While a conservative policy agenda will be important to the Republican party faithful, it may take a backseat to the desire to win in November 2012.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dick Cheney = Darth Vader? At least on Jay Leno ...

Last week, Dick Cheney made the rounds promoting his new book, In My Time: A Personal or Political Memoir.

He made a brief appearance on Jay Leno's The Tonight Show, engaging in the art of self-ridicule with his brief appearance in a Darth Vader costume. Here's a brief video clip of costumed Cheney:

As my own research has recently shown, politicians who are willing to engage with political comedy and practice the art of self-directed humor warm the attitudes of voters -- both voters who would normally support and oppose the particular politician or candidate. While Cheney is no longer running for elective office, it is possible that his appearances on programs like The Tonight Show and his willingness to act as a satirist engaged in the practice of political satire might actually encourage more positive feelings toward the former Vice President. Or perhaps he'll just sell some more copies of his memoirs.

A lesson in statistics: Perry's 40% job growth in Texas

Rick Perry, the conservative governor of Texas and contender for the GOP Presidential nomination likes to tout his record as a job creator. In his stump speeches across the country (or just in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina), he likes to emphasize that Texas led the country in job growth since 2009. 

In fact Perry claims that 40% of all the jobs created in the US since 2009 were in Texas. Astonishing statistic, but according to an analysis by, Perry's claim is actually accurate. 
The problem with Perry touting this 40% statistic is that given population growth in Texas and other factors the unemployment rate in Texas has actually increased since June 2009 even if it is still below the national average. According to

"In fact, if we look at the June 2009 starting point that Perry refers to, unemployment got worse in Texas – going from 7.7 percent in June 2009 to 8.4 percent in July 2011. The national rate, meanwhile, improved – dropping from 9.5 percent to 9.1 percent."

Moreover, it's not just the rate of job creation that's important in Texas, it's the quality of the jobs being created. Along with Mississippi, Texas has the highest number of workers earning below the minimum wage and the highest percentage of workers in the US (26%) who lack health insurance.

Paul Osterman, an economist at the MIT Sloan School of Management offers a compelling analysis of the jobs picture in Texas' Rio Grande Valley in today's NYT. The opinion piece reminds us that it's important to look at what Perry's "40%" really means and the impacts on the community, schools, and health care system. 

All in all, this "40%" label offers a valuable lesson in statistics, especially relevant for me and my students at Towson University as another semester of both undergraduate and graduate research methods gets underway. When looking at a statistic like this 40%, it's important to put things in perspective, to truly understand the full "statistical significance" of the percentages we cite, and to understand whether what's going on in the sample (e.g. Texas) is representative of what might be happening in the true US population. After all, Texas is a unique state that depends on the oil industry in particular to drive growth. 

As Obama prepares for his big jobs speech and the GOP Presidential candidates debate the economy and jobs tomorrow night, it will be important for us to understand the full jobs picture, compiling both statistics and trends that speak to our experience with unique samples like Texas and the larger US population. Moreover, sometimes it's not just about the percentage but what the percentage means and how it impacts other important factors and concerns. All in all, Perry's 40% offers a good lesson in statistics for us all.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Twitter, Hurricane Irene, and Mayor Bloomberg

There's a fun article in today's NYT about @ElBloombito, the 25 year old native New Yorker, Rachel Figueroa-Levin, who passed time during the storm tweeting about Mayor Bloomberg's attempts at communicating in Spanish. As the article in the NYT notes:

"By Sunday morning, @ElBloombito had about 2,000 followers. By Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 15,000, among them Mr. Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg)."

Rachel Figueroa-Levin, more commonly known as @Jewyorican on Twitter even exchanged some messages directly with Mayor Bloomberg's staff. 

The whole @ElBloombito story and the burst of attention Figueroa-Levin received is a great example of how Twitter and social media can change the communication landscape and bring 15 minutes of fame (or more) for the average American citizen. Seems Twitter has the potential to make newsmakers out of us all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

August's best political comedy: Blog post for bthesite/Baltimore Sun

My top 5 comedy picks for August are now online at Luke Broadwater's Ridiculous Report, a blog for Baltimore Sun.

Here's the video for pick #1:

And here's the video for pick #2, a close second: 

Learn why I picked these clips and three others as the top political comedy of August 2011 by reading the full blog post, available here.